Trekkie Monster is the alter-ego of Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster in the award-winning Broadway play, Avenue Q, which is an adult parody of Sesame Street. Geoffrey and I saw it several years ago and it was completely hilarious. Created by Rick Lyon, Trekkie is obsessed with social media and has made millions of dollars off investments in various platforms. In a previous iteration of the show, the original Trekkie was obsessed with Star Trek, hence his name.
Photographed in the Museum of The City of New York as Part of the Exhibit, Puppets of New York.
To many, comedian and actor John Belushistill feels like a contemporary artist — owing to the tenacity with which his work has embedded itself in pop culture — but the fact is that Belushi has been dead for a long time. A friend who accompanied me to the opening-night performance of a new play entitled With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi wasn’t quite two years old in March of 1982, when the hard-partying performer died of an accidental drug overdose in a Hollywood hotel room. But while she wasn’t even born yet when John Belushi broke comedic ground during the first incarnation of Saturday Night Live, and probably didn’t see Animal House until it had been in the can for 20 years, my friend has a conversational knowledge of all his best bits. That’s what it means to be a legend.
Jack Zullo (Far Right) as John Belushi in a Scene from With A Little Help . . . (Photo By K. Bentley)
The story behind The Rise and Fall of John Belushi is seriously overdue for a stage or screen adaptation, and playwright/actor Jack Zullo — who fully embodies Belushi’s manic energy and uncompromising spirit in the title role — admits that it’s been over thirteen years since he was first inspired to work on John Belushi as a character study, and immersed himself in the comedian’s material. What started out as a spec feature film script evolved into this current stage production of With A Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi, which was previously honed through multiple West Coast performances. With a goal of finding a place in the NYC theater scene, Zullo aspires to reverse-engineer the play back into a feature-length script to tell the story of John’s life in narrative form; something that has been attempted by many, but not successfully executed.
With a Little Help opens quietly on a scene in the bungalow at the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi spent his final moments of life, having just fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and cocaine. As he collapses on a mattress and takes his last breath, a chorus of disembodied voices ring out in the theater, admonishing the reckless thirty-three-year-old for being such a “dumb sonofabitch.” But the tragic tone quickly segues into a high-energy flashback of John, accompanied by his girlfriend Judy and best friend Steve, on a night in 1967 when he attended his first comedy show at Chicago’s The Second City club. John is visibly bursting with creative inspiration as he declares that he has found his life’s calling and intends to pursue a career in comedy.
From there, we follow John Belushi’s rise to prominence as an iconic American entertainer; working his way up from an indie college performer in 1968, to Manhattan in the mid-1970s, where he was part of the infamous National Lampoon Magazine and its Radio Hour, all the way through his four-year stint as one of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live.
The story of Belushi’s quick ascent to pop culture success shines the spotlight on his struggles to maintain control on the excesses afforded a budding star, counterbalanced with his desire to always be ahead of the curve by keeping the work fresh and exciting, and setting trends rather than following them. With a Little Help effectively revisits a time in American TV when the field of comedy was a Wild West for creative invention. John Belushi’s career was a wild ride while it lasted, but it’s not like we don’t already know how the journey ends.
With a Little Help takes its title from the now-legendary Saturday Night Live skit in which Belushi gives an over-the-top impersonation of British singer Joe Cocker’s eccentrically-mannered performance of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” This skit is recreated in the play, as are musical numbers made famous by The Blues Brothers — Belushi’s band with Dan Aykroyd. The production features the terrific Crazy Tomes Band, who provide a live soundtrack, accompanying the many musical numbers in the show, and playing a set of covers before the play starts.
In addition to the great live music, With a Little Help truly becomes a multi-media production, as it incorporates both newly-produced and archival film and video clips, which further the action in ways that would otherwise be impossible, such as when John and friends experience an LSD trip, or when SNL cast members indulge in drug binges that history tells us were common on that set.
The play’s supporting cast of characters includes John Belushi’s devoted wife Judy Jacklin (Jennifer Lieberman, who also appears as Gilda Radner), as well as a who’s who of the comedian ‘friends’ who supported, collaborated with, and cajoled Belushi on his path to fame, such as the National Lampoon’sTony Hendra (Len Rella), Christopher Guest (Benjamin Batchelder), Brian Murray (Artie Brennan, who also play’s Belushi’s close friend Steve Beshekas), Joe Flaherty (Nicolas Dipierro, who also appears as Lorne Michaels) and Dan Aykroyd, portrayed brilliantly by Keith Saltojanes. All the actors are excellent in their handling of multiple roles, but Jack Zullo as Belushi is so spot-on in his timing and physical comedy, I forgot multiple times that I was watching an actor and not Belushi himself.
John Belushi did not get to live a long life. It’s tragic that his comedic legacy also includes the bleak Hollywood cliche of self-destructive behavior, but With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is less a cautionary tale and more a celebration of and homage to a phenomenally talented individual whose body of work has been, and will continue to be, endlessly influential. Funny, smart, and deeply nostalgia-inducing, With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is a story whose time is now.
Directed by Levy Lee Simon With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi runs through December 22nd only at Theatre 80, located at 80 St. Marks Place, in NYC’s East Village. Tickets are super affordable at just $30 — $40 and are available via With a Little Help Show Dot Com. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 7 PM and 10 PM, and Sunday Matinees at 3 PM. A portion of ticket sales from the Theatre 80 run will be donated to The Comedians Assistance Fund and Gilda’s Club charities.
Above Photo and Playbill Image By Gail. All Other Performance Photos By Jeremy Daniel.
You just can’t keep a good thing down. Nine years after it debuted as a major motion picture, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical – based on the New York Times best-selling book, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, is back with a national theater run. The two-act rock musical, written by Rob Rokicki and Joe Tracz (Be More Chill), first played in NYC in 2017 for a short run. Due to the show’s popularity, fans of the book series demanded that the play be available to a larger audience, and a National Tour was launched in January. This past week, the tour made a four-day stop at NYC’s Beacon Theatre, and I was able to check it out.
Do you like drinking? I sure do. If you enjoy drinking and you also like going to the theater, maybe you have wished that there was a play where the actors brought cocktails right to your seat for you to enjoy during the show. That would be insane, right? What a great idea! Well, what if I told you that this is not just a beautiful, utopian dream, but that it is already happening right now? Yes, it is true, and this magical event happens at New World Stages in midtown. The show is called The Imbible: a Spirited History of Drinking, and the cherry on the cake is that it all takes place in a bar!
When you arrive at the theater, head down stairs, veer off to the left, and you will be escorted to your seat in the Green Room lounge. Water and a free bowl of fresh popcorn will be brought to your table for you to snack on while you wait for the show to begin. The Imbible was created by world-renowned mixologist Anthony Caporale, who looks a little bit like actor Joe Manganello, whose photo I have just hyperlinked, for your reference.
Ira Denmark as Andy Warhol and Calvin Levels as Jean-Michel Basquiat (Photo Courtesy or Devious Planet)
Fans of artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat will not want to miss an exciting new play coming to the off-Broadway stage just in time for the Christmas season. Staged Dreams is pleased to present the world premiere of Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat, a new American play written by Tony Award nominee, Calvin Levels and directed by Tony Award nominee, Lonny Price.
Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat is a dramatic portrayal of the symbiotic relationship between two of the twentieth century’s greatest artists. Collaboration captures a historic art-world moment as the iconic Pop artist Andy Warhol and the Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat attempt to navigate the perilous terrain of art and fame while collaborating on a joint series of paintings for their New York City gallery exhibition. The accomplished cast features Calvin Levels as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ira Denmark as Andy Warhol and Frank van Putten in the role of European art dealer Rudolfo Happesberger. Get your tickets now for this very limited engagement!
Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat Runs from Friday December 2nd through Thursday December 22, 2016 at Here’s MainStage Theatre, Located at 145 Sixth Ave. (entrance on Dominick St one block south of Spring), Soho, NYC. Performance Times are Wednesdays thru Fridays at 8:30PM, Saturdays at 4:00PM and 8:30PM, and Sundays at 4:00PM. Running time is 2 hours, including a intermission. For tickets and information please visit Here.org, or call the Box Office at (212) 352-3101, or toll free at (866) 811-4111. All Tickets are $25.
Geoffrey and I had no idea what to expect, exactly, when we were invited to attend Feeling Franklin, a comedy showcase at The Producers Club in Hell’s Kitchen, starring LA-based character comedian, Franklin Marshall The Third. Geoffrey was familiar with Marshall already from social media and a guerrilla marketing campaign in which he has blanketed the streets of both LA and NYC with stickers and stencils bearing the likeness of his face, as seen above. The show seemed like it would be a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday evening in NYC, where anything can happen!
When we arrived at the designated address for The Producers Club, a sign on the door assured us that we were in the right place. We felt like we were in for a magical evening!
We were then escorted to wait in the bar, where we lounged on a very comfy leather sofa and enjoyed some art, such as this fine painting of an Octopus.
Really nice, right? Soon, it was time for the show!
As you can see, Franklin Marshall’s stand up persona, which is that of a shy-yet-horny nerd boy, relies heavily on his physical resemblance to Pee Wee Herman-meets-Ed Grimley, with a little of South Park’s Mr. Garrison thrown in. You will know what I mean by that last reference if you see him live, but I do not want offer any spoilers right now, because the thrill of discovery is a huge part of the fun!
Franklin refers often to his well-worn notebook, as he bases his jokes and humorous stories on observational, everyday sorts of experiences and things, often contemplating how much he wants to score with hot chicks, but how the desired ‘scoring’ somehow eludes him. Everyone can relate, and in this way he builds a sense of intimacy with the audience. Here are a couple of my favorite jokes from the set that I can still remember, because this was a couple of weeks ago now:
Franklin asked the audience if we wanted to hear a racist joke. Not wanting to appear uncool and overly PC, we play along and say yes. And the joke is . . .“Donald Trump.” That’s the entire joke, and it’s brilliant in its utter simplicity and resonant truth! Because Donald Trump is a racist asshole! I hate him soooo much.
Franklin also had a fun joke about a brand of Darth Vader condoms whose slogan is “I am Not Your Father.” Hilarious!
After the one-hour set, Franklin served the crowd a tray of very delicious cupcakes, which are my favorite thing ever.
It’s nice that Franklin takes the time to meet his fans after the show and pose for selfies. Here he is with Geoffrey, who Franklin recognized immediately from the FaceBook. Special! The most hilarious thing though is that if you just look at Franklin, it’s not hard to imagine that if he stood up straight, put on some clothes that fit and shampooed the product out of his hair, he probably cleans up pretty good! For more information about Franklin Marshall the III, who has opened for comedy greats like Rob Schneider, Dave Chapelle, and Nikki Glasser, you can visit Franklin Marshall the Third Dot Com!
Ned Eisenberg and Katie McClellan Star in Rocket to The Moon (Image Source)
When an oft-visited Water Cooler is the undeniable focal point in a multi-act play’s only set, you can place a safe bet that themes of Thirst and Relief — in all of their figurative and literal meanings — are sure to be explored. Currently in a limited engagement revival at Theatre at St. Clement’s, Clifford Odet’s Rocket to the Moon is set in 1938 during a sweltering NYC summer, and the heat isn’t the only thing that’s oppressive. Dentist Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg) — whose Midtown Manhattan office provides the story’s setting — is experiencing a worrisome decline in business, as is his fellow dentist and tenant, Dr. Phil Cooper (Larry Bull), who doesn’t offer Ben much hope that his months-in-arrears rent will be paid any time soon. Ben is also treated like a doormat by his wife Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), a woman from a wealthy family who surely expected to be living a more comfortable and upwardly mobile lifestyle than what her husband is providing. Clearly, no one is too happy.